Friday, November 18, 2005

Brenda Star

The smell of newsprint thrills me as much today just as it did when I was a little girl, hoisted on Granddaddy’s hip, taking a tour of the back shop. I remember inhaling the heady mixture of ink, bay breezes and dirt while I looked out at the young men, old men, black men, white men, self-proclaimed Gulf Coast crackers working side by side in his hangar space of flickering orange light and deafening noise. They hunched over the monstrous printing presses, smeared in ink, sweat dropping from the tips of their noses. Limp cigarettes dangled from thin, colorless lips. As we walked around the periphery of the machines, Granddaddy mouthed to me, “No rules,” wagging his index finger in my face like an over-zealous stage actor. My 5 year-old perceptions of his words made that cavernous expanse of cement a sort of Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of whimsy and possibility. I thought Pappy rolled out cotton candy machines during the overnight shift, chocolate milk spurted from the water fountain, pillow fights ensued after night fall to keep the men awake. The association of newspapers with fantasy and otherworldliness is a strange one as no other profession is so grounded in the day-to-day. Yet, somehow the visions hold fast. The fantasy remains.

Twenty years have passed, it’s 7 o’clock in the morning, and, now, I’m standing on my own two feet. I pad out to the entry hall of my apartment building (silk robe, white terry-cloth slippers) and hope that, somehow, the New York Times will smell like the back shop, like Granddaddy, like home. I press my nose and lips to the almost translucent gray sheet of “A1” and inhale. Nothing. I try again. Something faint. I tear off the corner of the front section and do something that I haven’t done since I was a child: I bite off a little piece of the newsprint. I chew. Mamma’s voice rings in my head, “She’s at it again! Will you look? She’s chewing on newsprint! Pappy, get that out of her mouth. What kind of girl am I raisin’ here? My child does not eat dirt.”

“It’s not dirt, darlin,’ it’s my Op-Ed column,” he says with a chuckle.

I spit out the wet ball of paper into my cupped hand. I realize that no matter how terrible or trying my experiences have been in the news business, it will always be some sort of sustenance for me, a steady supply of nourishment and fulfillment.

Destiny—maybe that’s the word I can’t get my tongue around.

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